Ukraine might appear at the epicenter of a new international scandal. And the reason is our labor migrants. Estonian Ambassador to Kyiv Kaimo Kuusk said that the Ukrainian government has banned Ukrainians from leaving the country in order to find a job. At the same time, European countries want our labor migrants to work for them. It is difficult to understand why Ukraine artificially restrains labor migration because people simply do not have work for decent pay in our country.
Europe is ready to spend money on charters for Ukrainian labor migrants
Returning to Ukraine before the closure of the borders, labor migrants became trapped: they do not have an opportunity to return back, although they are very much waited by the foreign employers.
On the eve of the spring harvest, Finland planned to allow 14,000 people from Ukraine to come for seasonal works. Despite the fact that officially the borders of Finland are closed, the Finnish government allowed coming seasonal workers, including ones from Ukraine. To do this, a person must have permission to get a job, which is issued at the Embassy of Finland in Kyiv. Permits can be obtained by workers who are invited by specific Finnish employers.
Poland is also waiting for the return of labor migrants from Ukraine. On the Polish television channel TVP, the president of the Industrial Personnel Service, Krzysztof Inglot, said that Poland is experiencing an acute shortage of people to work in agriculture. Farmers will not be able to harvest without seasonal workers, who usually came from Ukraine. Inglot said that Poland was planning to organize charter flights for Ukrainians so that they would go to work in the country even during the quarantine. “We want to transport the first 200 people from Ukraine to factories in Wroclaw,” Inglot said.
German farmers have already brought seasonal workers from Romania. Polish farmers complain that soon it will be necessary to collect asparagus, strawberries will ripen, and there were no working hands either. Polish labor market experts in the local media are increasingly saying that nothing prevents the organization of charter flights for agricultural workers. “Charters for workers are not cheap, but the alternative to losing crops is much worse. But there will be many willing Ukrainians to go to work,” Polish economists say.
The Ministry of Agriculture of Poland is considering options on how to interest seasonal workers to come and find jobs in Polish farms, Polish Minister of Agriculture Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski said in an interview with the RAR news agency. He said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is analyzing ways to create opportunities for workers to come, in particular, it is considering the possibility of changing the rules of the mandatory 14-day quarantine so that people with social isolation can do the work and get paid for their work from the first day farms in which they came.
Speaking about the Polish labor market, Ukrainians could get jobs not only in the field of agriculture: the construction season has begun, and some Polish firms are even forced to close due to a lack of employees, said Vitaliy Makhinko, head of the Labor Solidarity trade union (the union protects the rights of labor migrants in Poland, where the Ukrainians who work the most have left for work). Makhinko noted that in reality, not so many labor migrants returned to Ukraine.
Scandal is emerging
Since the beginning of quarantine, from 10 to 15% of labor migrants from Poland, or about 150,000 people, returned to Ukraine (whereas, according to various estimates, the number of Ukrainians working in Poland reaches 1 million), Vasyl Voskoboynyk, the head of the All-Ukrainian Association of International Employment Companies, says. According to him, Ukrainians returned to their home country due to the expiration of their stay on a biometric passport, the expiration of a work visa or the quarantine of the company they worked for. “A small part of the citizens went home because they were afraid to remain cut off from their families in Ukraine for a long time because of quarantine,” he said.
At the same time, for those Ukrainians who remained in Poland, the local authorities automatically extended their stay. On April 17, a new law came into force (Ustawa o szczególnych instrumentach wsparcia w związku z rozprzestrzenianiem się wirusa SARS-CoV-2), which allows foreigners to stay legally for 30 days after the end of the epidemic without having to apply for a temporary residence permit.
Mainly those workers who were employed in the industry and the service sector stayed in Poland. But seasonal agricultural workers usually came to Poland in the spring. And now they can’t do it.
Now the main obstacle for the Ukrainians who want to return to work abroad is transportation. Unlike Finland, the borders of Poland are not closed: they can be crossed by road. Ground checkpoints were also opened in Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. It’s another matter that in the absence of railway and bus connections, people get expensive, Makhinko said: “Now labor migrants were traveling from Mariupol to the checkpoint in Krakovets, where they were met by the representative of the employer by car. They paid 10 thousand UAH for the road.”
An attempt to organize the export of Ukrainians by charter flights, in particular to Finland, turned into a scandal. On April 23, Ukraine’s International Airlines commissioned an Estonian private company (which pays for them) on a charter flight, which delivered about 200 Ukrainian citizens to participate in seasonal work on Finnish farms. The company announced its intention to perform at least two more such flights, including to other European countries. It was reported that, perhaps, later labor migrants will be able to fly to Germany and England. “However, after the first 200 people were delivered to Helsinki, the Ukrainian government suspended further charter flights, and seasonal workers are no longer allowed to go abroad,” said Estonian Ambassador to Kyiv Kaimo Kuusk. According to him, the Cabinet of Ministers temporarily prohibited Ukrainians from traveling abroad in order to work, while retaining the opportunity to leave the country through land checkpoints only for visiting relatives living in the countries of the European Union.
Take a loan and stay at home
But the experts are sure that the authorities create deliberate obstacles for the people to earn money. At the same time, the meaning of such a policy is difficult to understand, because in Ukraine these people are corny no work. And in the context of the economic crisis, unemployment in the country will only grow.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, responding to question 112.ua during an online briefing, said that they are aware of the current situation of labor migrants who cannot go to work. But, he said, the authorities, they say, are concerned about the health of citizens and do not want to put them at risk of contracting a coronavirus. “Against this background, the organization of mass charters for the export of Ukrainians to countries where the pandemic is also continuing is illogical. But we are constructive, we understand the employees, and we will be ready to reconsider the situation in the context of pandemic,” Kuleba said.
Our sources in aviation circles say that the authorities, actually, do not express a great desire to resume the air traffic stopped on March 17, and Ukraine remains a blank spot on the Fly Radar map. Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy in an interview with Liga.net said that starting May 12, the first question will be about the restoration of suburban and intercity communications, in particular bus and rail transport. Then, the next turn is internal air traffic. Prime Minister Denys Shmygal also spoke about the fact that air traffic will resume last, after local and interregional land transport.
“We already know about two cases in Europe when employers, namely farmers, organized charters to transport labor to other countries. But our border is actually closed. We want to try to leave people in Ukraine and make every effort to do this,” said Shmygal, emphasizing that “these are the political and moral approaches, therefore negotiations on taking people to work somewhere are not conducted either at the official or unofficial level.”
PM noted that about 2 million Ukrainian citizens (almost all experts question this figure) who returned to Ukraine are identified as “extremely skilled, trained in Europe workforce that has high productivity, technological and vocational training,” so these are people which "would certainly be very useful for the development of the economy within the country, and they obviously need to be saved."
It is very likely that the Cabinet is trying to find some tools to actually prohibit Ukrainians from going abroad to work and then announce the creation of 500,000 new jobs with a minimum wage, says Vasyl Voskoboynyk. According to him, Ukraine in the near future will not be able to reduce the economic gap from its neighbors in the EU and the economic situation in the country will deteriorate more than in other countries.
Earlier, President Zelensky said that Ukrainians should come back home. The government even developed a program of cheap loans for returning wage earners. “The next stage is the New Money program. Actually, for those people who have returned from earnings; who want to keep jobs - for the existing business. It will also be a program of soft loans, as the president said, a 3% rate,” Shmygal said.
Economists do not particularly believe in the success of this initiative. GROWFORD Institute expert Oleksiy Kushch wonders: would labor migrants take these programs?
Artificial retention of people in the country is a losing strategy, experts emphasize. No one will agree to work for a “piece of bread” in the country if there is a chance to earn much more abroad. And if the authorities continue to be inactive and no real economic incentives are created in Ukraine in order not to leave, the Ukrainians will find a way to escape from the country.